What an experience!
(long post, let me know if this is the wrong place for it)
For context, I'm a 27 year old grad student that got into traditional muzzleloaders in June of last year and since then, it's eclipsed my other hobbies. My first project (within my budget) was to make Powder, caps, and balls. I was going in blind without a mentor, but I knew I'd need ammo. After I had serviceable powder, seamless balls, and caps that popped, I bought a pecatonica Dickert kit and started practicing drawing/wood carving on scrap. Throughout this learning experience, my only connection to muzzleloading was YouTube videos (Jim Kibler, I Love Muzzleloading, Everything Black powder, etc.), this forum, and the two books y'all recommended. After 100 hours of work and only a (somewhat) inlet lock and barrel I knew I was in for the long haul and should probably connect with others.
So, after 3 hours of driving, I got to the show at 9am. I was absolutely floored. I had spent months boring my poor girlfriend and (modern) shooting buddies about the history/craft of muzzleloading and BP, and suddenly I was in a room full of like-minded frontiersmen. I was giddy.
I was somewhat intimidated at first. It hadn't yet occurred to me that I had entered a community gathering. I wandered the tables making smalltalk, asking dumb questions, and trying to gauge how much time I can spend at each table while still seeing everything I could. I was met with a slightly hesitant, but welcoming attitude. Then I saw a gentleman in the back with 2 rifles that caught my eye and approached. I saw the name "Rice'' on his nametag, and thought huh, the only reference to that surname I know of is the university, the maker of my barrel, and this guy. Liston told me about his new lock company, and I admitted I only knew of L&R and Chambers. It didn't click until he explained his relationship to both of those companies, and I asked if he had anything to do with my recently purchased barrel as well. Like I said, dumb questions. That interaction changed the tone. I had seen his name maybe 100 times while researching my build, reading reviews and recommendations, etc. This pantheon of recurring names had been somewhat deified in my mind after seeing so much discussion, praise, and debate over their work. I hardly considered they'd be real people, to me the names represented institutions, like Remington, Winchester, etc. But, there he was, the namesake of my barrel, wearing an Airforce hat and explaining the provenance of the displayed rifles.
After that, I found Jack Garner. I had called his shop months ago when I was trying to build my first rifle, and had seen his name frequently online. Then I met his protégé who I was informed of when I called earlier, he was younger than me and goes to the same university. We talked for a good long while many times yesterday, exchanged numbers, and if I'm lucky I can trade some calculus tutoring for rifle tutoring before he figures out his time and knowledge is WAY more valuable than mine.
I went downstairs and talked to one gentleman (Tim Colby?) whose name I didn't write down, but he gave me lots of tips and information about building. I'd be reintroduced to him later by Liston after asking about wire inlay, which makes it worse that I can't remember his name. I gave him my name, number, and address and he said he'd send me a VHS he made of his late friend, Frank Bartlett, doing wire inlay.
After 7 or so hours I was exhausted and was about to, reluctantly, leave. I started chatting with Celeste Parker while figuring out how to pay for a raffle ticket without cash. We shared stories about the natural shooting talent of women, and how to get more young people involved, before I paid her electronically with Venmo. She was extraordinarily pleasant and welcoming and escorted me to meet her husband, Jim, and the Masonic Mountain Men. That's where I learned of the classes offered by Jim Parker, and was enthusiastically invited to attend by alumni present.
My last stop was to Muzzleloader Magazine to pick up a subscription. That's where I talked to the Gatliffs. I was told to buy the Mike Miller instructional DVD set multiple times that day but a grad student's stipend only goes so far and I settled on a subscription instead. At that, I was finally asked my age for the first time all day. When I told Jason I was 27 and was just starting out, he told me of the Youth Gunbuilding Scholarship and urged me to apply, which I intend to do. He even gave me the December issue of Muzzleloader for free where I could find info about it.
After spending 8+ hours at the show I had to leave, and the excitement of the day kept me awake for the 3 hour return drive.
I met many more great people, like Paul Hall of the Tennessee Longhunters who gifted me a ball starter I sorely needed, but this post is long enough.
Overall, I had a great time and my first event filled me with enthusiasm for the hobby. I was pleased with the warm, slightly hesitant welcome I received. I don't know the demographics of the entire community but I could have been 35 years younger than the average. I only mention it because it confused the hell out of me. There is nothing about traditional muzzleloading as a hobby that wouldn't appeal to a young person. I'm definitely coming back next year, and I'll be looking for more meets in the meantime.
(P.S. I took about 150 pictures of the rifles and accoutrement, let me know if you want to see any of it.)